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TECHNOLOGY | THERMALLY CONDUCTIVE


technical criteria for thermally conductive additive selection include easy feedability, good dispersion that also influences mechanical strength, and impact on the rheology. Using lower additive levels – in the 10-20% range – is welcome, providing other properties can be maintained,” she says. Witcom says existing and potential applications for thermally conductive compounds include computer heat sinks, outdoor light housings, back parts of industrial cameras, and cooling parts for automotive batteries and engines. The materials can also find applications in parts that require a metal-like cool touch (thermal conductivity is a key factor in the surface haptic). Future applications will, however, require a


Above: Many electronic applications will require thermal


conductivity, electrical insulation and flame retardance


cheapest thermally conductive additives are used, or alternatively a thin metal layer is applied on virgin plastics,” Van Bellingen says. The combination of the known benefits of plastics with a better understanding of thermal system design is likely to help polymer-based application development. “Plastics solutions are ideal for overcoming the drawbacks of metal and offer corrosion resistance, lightweighting opportu- nities and a high degree of design freedom. It is now better accepted by industry that high metal thermal conductivity is not necessary to get outstanding heat dissipation from filled plastics; values below 5 W/mK and even between 1-2 W/mK through-plane can be enough to dissipate heat efficiently. While high levels of thermally conduc- tive additives are still necessary to get the required performance, this may result in some brittleness especially when dispersibility or ‘adhesion’ with the plastics matrix is not optimal. When lower additive loadings can do the job, for example with expand- ed graphite, then higher viscosity will occur,” Van Bellingen explains.


Formulation experts “This is where a speciality plastics compounder can play the role of a formulation expert to overcome these drawbacks and deliver a correct, workable, solution,” she says. “At Witcom, we develop customised compound solutions. For example, we have developed polyamide grades, all reinforced, that are thermally and electrically conductive, or thermally and electrically insulative, with some with halogen-free flame retardancy. As a customised engineering plastics compounder, we can develop any thermally conductive formulations based on various plastics, such as PA, PBT, PPS, PC and PEI.” Van Bellingen adds that graphene is increasingly being talked about as promising high tech theoretical solution. “As a compounder, the major


22 COMPOUNDING WORLD | April 2019


combination of material characteristics. “There will be increased needs for electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, flame retardancy and EMI shielding, as related to e-mobility – electric and hybrid cars, autonomous driving, lightweighting and metal replacement, and higher safety concerns. Higher battery power, wider use of heat sensitive electronics and sensors, and the trend for smaller parts will call for more speciality plastics compounds with the combined properties of thermal conductivity and EMI, thermal conductivity, with EMI and flame retardance, and with electrical conductivity and flame retardance,” Van Bellingen predicts.


Functionality matters With increasing functionalisation of plastics in applications such as electronics and transportation, in particular, there is certainly a notable market demand for thermally conductive compounds, according to Sebastian Heitkamp, Global Marketing Segment Manager at Cabot Corporation. “The main trends are electrification of cars and increasing requirements with automotive and electronics ‘merging’ these two major plastic applications,” he says. Thermal management in the car is becoming


more important as the batteries provide a new source of heat, Heitkamp explains. And as batteries are integrated into the structure of the vehicle, designers and plastic engineers will have to solve the heat transfer through plastic materials. “Traditional and new additive solutions must not only perform in their thermally conductive behaviour, but must also function properly with additional levels of other additives such as stabilisers or flame retardants. With the growing need for functional plastics in demanding applications, the interaction between different filler types and additives must be understood to


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PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK


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